Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Schooling in Modernity: The Politics of Sponsored Films in Postwar Italy

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

Schooling in Modernity: The Politics of Sponsored Films in Postwar Italy

Article excerpt

SCHOOLING IN MODERNITY: THE POLITICS OF SPONSORED FILMS IN POSTWAR ITALY By Paola Bonifazio Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014, 304 pp


Paola Bonifazio's Schooling in Modernity: The Politics of Sponsored Films in Postwar Italy presents a previously neglected but important perspective on the history of post-World War II Italian cinema. Bonifazio analyzes a portion of the thousands of documentary and informational films made by governments, nonprofits, and corporations from 1948 through the end of the 1950s, demonstrating that various forces had an interest in guiding the structural, social, and political reconstruction of Italy. Common trends emerge throughout many of these films, but the end result was not a unified, hegemonic force that attempted to persuade Italians to adapt to a single viewpoint. Instead, Bonifazio adeptly analyzes differences of opinion between the leaders of various organizations who attempted to influence the Italian people. Additionally, the works discussed in Schooling in Modernity do not remain independent of well-known, contemporary trends in Italian cinema. Rather, the author demonstrates that many government, industrial, and educational films were in dialogue with neorealism, borrowing stylistically from these better known works while often arguing against their sociopolitical messages.

The book's strength lies in Bonifazio's skillful analysis of a representative sample of these works. Each of the six chapters begins with a basic overview, before flowing into brief case studies of about a half-dozen films. Three of these chapters focus on major national issues. The first chapter discusses films that dealt with unemployment issues, while the third and fourth chapters are respectively on the national housing crisis and the economic division between the north and south. These chapters include analyses of these themes across films produced by the Italian and American governments, nonprofits, and neorealist directors. Meanwhile, the second, fifth, and sixth chapters focus specifically on corporateproduced works, educational films, and newsreels, respectively, while occasionally connecting works in these genres to those discussed in other chapters. The end result is discussions on how Italian business, education, and the media each interacted with and shaped post-Fascist society. Additionally, the main text is followed by a filmography detailing films made by the organizations discussed throughout the book, opening the door to further research by other scholars.

In her introduction, Bonifazio explains the scope of her work and provides a logical reason for limiting the time frame of her study. Italian society went through a period of reinvention after the fall of Fascism, with numerous forces attempting to influence the direction of this change. The Americans had a vested interest in Italy not falling to communist influence and the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA)-the agency set up to administer the Marshall Plan-oversaw persuasion efforts on this front. The Italian government largely cooperated with American messaging, but the Christian Democrat majority hoped to justify its continued control of the Italian government by showing that the country's progress reached beyond that spurred by outside funding and other support. Both the ECA and the Italian government depended on the growth of domestic industry to provide ongoing stability, with major businesses often conforming to governmental messages, but sometimes positing their own ideas on the proper direction for Italian society. And, as major social problems emerged or were brought to light at the end of the war, organizations such as the National Union for the Fight against Illiteracy and the Catholic Center for Cinematography moved to bring attention to such issues.

Bonifazio details how all of these sponsoring organizations made use of film to convey their messages as theatres throughout the nation allowed these materials to be shown before features and outdoor exhibitors in towns without cinemas-mainly in the south of the country-gladly filled their programs with sponsored films that were provided at little or no cost. …

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